Thursday, June 30, 2005

True Colors of Shakespeare’s Othello

As a master of portraying human nature, William Shakespeare creates characters not only believable as characters, but as real people as well. Shakespeare knew that the audience needed to see each character as someone they could meet or associate with a person within their daily lives. While the actions of a person in the Elizabethan Era may be explained by his four humours, a description that associates the person’s physical attributes of his/her blood with nature, Carolyn Kalil’s True Colors personality assessment better explains the actions of a person through the person’s personality traits depicted by the four True Colors. Kalil notes that the “True Colors [Personality System] was designed in 1979 by Don Lowry, combining four colors with four distinct personality types. He presented his program as a stage production with actors playing the roles of the four personalities” (4). Using the True Colors system, one finds the characters of Shakespeare’s Othello come to life as real people with reasons for their behaviors.

Kalil explains that the first color, or primary color, represents characteristics that are most like the person (16). Self-esteem originates from the primary color while the secondary color shapes the way a person expresses his or her primary color. Less of a person is seen in his or her third and fourth colors. Kalil quickly points out that “no primary color is better than another” as “each personality has different strengths and preferences” (16).

Kalil’s book, Follow Your True Colors to the Work You Love, contains four character cards that briefly sum up each of the four personality colors (characteristics) that comprise each person’s True Colors profile. The Orange card depicts a courageous, spontaneous, competitive, physical, and charming personality. The Green card illustrates a conceptual, rational, investigative, and collected personality. The Gold card shows a conventional, moral, ethical, dependable, loyal, traditional, and organized personality. Finally, the Blue card describes a compassionate, supporting, caring, romantic, nurturing, harmonizing, enthusiastic, and idealistic personality. In an argument, Oranges will argue even if they know they are wrong, Blues will try to avoid or end the argument because they do not like conflict, Golds think they are right, and Greens know they are right.

Shakespeare gives enough personality to his minor characters to create a sense of reality. Brabantio, Gratiano, Lodovico, and Montano wonderfully portray a primary color of Gold, the personality color that Kalil associates with politicians (127). Brabantio expresses his gold color through his outrage that Othello and Desdemona did not follow tradition in getting married; he suggests that Othello must have used witchcraft on Desdemona because she would never have defied her father by marrying someone outside of her class or race (Oth. 1.1.94-106). Kalil explains that a Gold man greatly emphasizes ensuring good citizenship and good values in his children (92). Because Desdemona has defied Brabantio’s teachings, as a Gold he must assume that the fault lies in witchcraft – not in his attempt to transfer his values to his daughter as a Gold parent should do. Bianca displays her Orange personality in Oth. 3.4.196-198 as she tells Cassio that she knows that he does not love her, but requests that he ask her over for sex that night. Kalil suggests that an Orange such as Bianca resorts to sex when she is “out-of-esteem,” or, as in this case, cannot gain the love of the man (Cassio) whom she loves (105). Even though these characters are not well described, Shakespeare has given them real personalities that have real and justifiable behaviors.

As Shakespeare presents a rounder character, the audience sees that individual’s primary and secondary colors. In Oth. 1.1 Roderigo presents both his Orange and Blue personalities. Roderigo does not consider the time of day when he calls out to Brabantio in Oth. 1.1.78, but falls prey to the Orange characteristic of acting or speaking first and thinking of the consequences later (Kalil 105). In Oth. 1.1.96-101, Brabantio gives the impression that Roderigo is infatuated with Desdemona. Kalil associates this quality of being a hopeless romantic with a Blue (63). Roderigo proves himself a Blue-Orange in Oth 1.3 as he shows his emotions publicly before Iago (a Blue trait) and impetuously contemplates drowning himself (an Orange trait).

Although the Duke of Venice plays a small part in the plot, Shakespeare gives him a round portrayal as a Green-Gold. Kalil identifies decision-making and evaluating as natural talents of a Gold (125), and being a judge as a well-suited career choice for a Gold (127). The Duke finds himself in this position of a Gold, but does, however, reveal his Green primary color in his judgment of Othello as he says, “To vouch this is no proof, / Without more wider and more overt test / Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods / Of modern seeming do prefer against him” (Oth. 1.3.106-109). This disregard for the emotional testimony by Brabantio and desire for just the facts exemplifies Kalil’s concept of a rational Green (73). Kalil’s work also confirms the notion of the Duke having Green as his primary color in her description of a Green as being “destined to be a leader” (78).

Shakespeare gives Cassio a Green-Orange personality, matching his role as a leader and man of action. Iago describes Cassio as an arithmetician, one who knows the principles of battle, but has no experience fighting in a battle (Oth. 1.119-26). Kalil labels such objective thinkers and theorists as Greens (70). While Cassio tends to display his Green personality most often, his Orange secondary color leads him to trouble as he proclaims, “. . . I have very poor / and unhappy brains for drinking” (Oth. 2.3.33-34). Kalil identifies addiction to alcohol as an “out-of-esteem” characteristic of an Orange (105). Kalil also discusses the violent tempers that “out-of-esteem” Oranges have as she states, “. . . if you start a fight with them, be prepared to finish it” (105). A drunken Cassio demonstrates this trait as he pursues Roderigo and fights Montano (Oth. 2.3.145-156).

When the character of Emilia unfolds, a Blue-Gold personality emerges. The natural gifts of a Blue include fostering, helping others, and nurturing (Kalil 113). Shakespeare’s Emilia portrays these characteristics in her care of Desdemona throughout the play. In particular, Emilia takes on a maternal role as she begins consoling Desdemona in Oth. 4.3. She clearly oversteps class boundaries as she comments, “I would you [Desdemona] had never seen him [Othello]” (Oth. 4.3.18). As a Blue, Emilia not only sympathizes with her lady, but she can also empathize with her. Emilia’s Gold secondary personality drives her to remain loyal – a quality Kalil says that Golds hold in high regard (43). Emilia’s loyalty (Gold) drives her attempt to patch up the confusion and jealousy Othello displays as he asks Emilia if she has seen Cassio and Desdemona together; Emilia replies, “But then I saw no harm, and then I heard / Each syllable that breath made up between them” (Oth. 4.2.4-5). She later emphasizes her point by saying to Othello, “I durst, my lord, to wager she [Desdemona] is honest; / Lay down my soul at stake” (Oth 4.2.12-13).

Blue personalities also see everyone as good until that person provides evidence of the contrary (Kalil 54). Emilia not only views Othello negatively after he calls Desdemona a whore (Oth. 4.2.70-81), but also realizes the true nature of her husband when Othello tells her that Iago said Desdemona was unfaithful (Oth. 5.2.136-139). Shakespeare needs Emilia to be naïve about Iago’s deeds just as the audience needs Emilia to bring forth her Gold traits in the end to make everything right. Emilia’s Gold character does step up as she proclaims, “O thou dull Moor, that handkerchief thou speak’st of / I found by fortune, and did give my husband; / For often, with a solemn earnestness / (More than indeed belong’d to such a trifle), / He begg’d of me to steal’t” (Oth. 5.2.225-229). Emilia’s final attempt to set things right conveys the driving force of her secondary Goldness as it pushes her primary Blue personality to resolve the conflict and become what Kalil describes as the Blue becoming the ultimate rescuer (68). Because of Emilia’s Blue-Gold colors, Shakespeare’s audience can view her last minutes, however tragic, as a success – a life with meaning and purpose.

In analyzing Desdemona’s True Colors, Blue stands out as primary – so dominant as to occlude the other colors. She begins to show her romantic Blue characteristics as she says to Othello, “The heavens forbid / But that our loves and comforts should increase / Even as our days do grow!” (Oth. 2.1.193-195). Desdemona also displays the Blue attribute of helping others as she professes to Cassio, “Be thou assur’d, good Cassio, I will do / All my abilities in thy behalf” (Oth. 3.3.1-2). In this manner, Desdemona sets out to get Cassio reinstated as Othello’s lieutenant. Desdemona feels the empathy of a Blue, telling Othello that Cassio left “so humbled / That he hath left part of his grief with me / To suffer with him” (Oth. 3.3.52-54). Shakespeare needs his audience to feel the innocence, naïveté, and goodness of Desdemona so they feel horror at her death later. Kalil mentions that an “out-of-esteem” Blue may “have a tendency to withdraw and wallow in self-pity” (67). Desdemona does just that when she seeks seclusion in the “Willow” song in Oth. 4.3. She never quite reclaims her self-esteem before being murdered by Othello in Oth. 5.2, thus gaining audience sympathy.

Kalil mentions two Blue characteristics important in discussing the Blue-Orange Othello. Blues have strong communication skills, most commonly personalizing the conversation (Kalil 55). Kalil says, “Because [Blues] don’t like to argue, they may appear to be cowards in a hostile situation; but their strength lies in knowing that there is a better way to resolve conflict” (56). Othello displays his communication skills early as he says, “Let him do his spite; / My services which I have done the signiory / Shall out-tongue his complaints” (Oth. 1.2.17-19). Instead of the poetic language used, Othello could have simply said, “Don’t worry about it. My work for the government is more important than anything Brabantio can say.” In another instance before the Duke, Othello says,

“Rude am I in my speech,

And little bless’d with the soft phrase of peace;

For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,

Till now some nine moons wasted, they have us’d

Their dearest action in the tented field;

And little of this great world can I speak

More than pertains to feats of broils and battle,

And therefore little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself” (Oth. 1.3.80-89).

Instead of being “rude . . . in . . . speech,” Othello articulates his thoughts quite well. Othello demonstrates his fondness of conversing about himself as he describes the way that he won Desdemona’s love – by telling stories of his life (Oth. 1.3.128-170). Othello also displays his strength in resolving conflicts early in the play when he is met by an angry Brabantio and says, “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” (Oth. 1.2.59) and, “Hold your hands, / Both you of my inclining, and the rest” (Oth. 1.2.81-82). Shakespeare utilizes both Blue characteristics (ability in resolving conflicts and dexterity in conversing) at the beginning of the play to sway the audience to like the Moor, characterizing him as passive and noble, yet at the same time portraying a hint of cowardice in Othello.

Kalil says that a Blue man needs quality time with his mate, or he gets upset – “he needs lots of attention (64). Shakespeare uses this Blue attribute as part of Othello’s tragic flaw, jealousy. Othello requires so much attention from Desdemona, that when Iago convinces him in Oth. 3.3 that Cassio is romantically pursuing Desdemona, he believes it. Kalil says that at times of conflict, “Blues may shut down and lose their ability to communicate because they are feeling so many emotions” (57). After speaking with Iago, Othello’s next discourse with Desdemona is reduced to one sentence replies and statement to which she asks, “Why do you speak so faintly? / Are you not well?” (Oth. 3.3.283).

Shakespeare then builds Othello’s breakdown by depending upon Othello’s secondary color of Orange. Othello’s “out-of-esteem” Orangeness leads to a violent temper coupled with an “out-of-esteem” Blue trait of openly crying (Kalil 67). Othello’s violent temper appears in Oth. 3.3.359-363 when he grabs Iago by the throat and says, “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore; / Be sure of it. Give me ocular proof, / Or by the worth of mine eternal soul, / Thou hadst been better have been born a dog / Than answer my wak’d wrath!” Shakespeare follows the twist of human nature as Othello fully succumbs to jealousy. In the midst of Othello’s wrath enabled by his Orange secondary color, Desdemona witnesses Othello in his “out-of-esteem” Blue characteristic of crying (Oth. 4.2.42). Shakespeare uses the manic qualities of depression associated with “out-of-esteem” Blues to swing Othello back into an eerily calm temper that ends Desdemona’s life in Oth. 5.2. Othello’s primary Blue color enables Shakespeare to convey Othello’s true love and remorse at the end of Oth. 5.2 as Othello commits suicide resulting from his anagnorisis.

Although Othello is about the tragedy of Othello, Shakespeare creates Iago as the most intriguing and the roundest of characters, maintaining a clear sense of reality. Shakespeare presents Iago with a Green-Orange personality. As the play opens, Iago conveys to Roderigo his anger at Othello for not selecting him to become his lieutenant (Oth. 1.1.8-33). Iago immediately takes on the Green “out-of-esteem” behavior of “resort[ing] to bitter sarcasm or cynicism. Their clever use of words can become a sharp weapon that penetrates the heart or cuts through the bones” (Kalil 81). This “out-of-esteem” personality trait takes over Iago’s being as he utilizes it to destroy several of the characters in the play. Shakespeare creates a real person in Iago through his Green color because Iago whittles down his opponents with his discourse, manipulating each opponent as he does. Iago, known as honest Iago, is just that, honest, letting his clever use of words dictate what he wants a person to hear. The sarcasm of his first lines already demonstrates his clever discourse: “[‘Sblood,] but you’ll not hear me. / If ever I did dream of such a matter [taking Roderigo’s money as if his own], / Abhor me” (Oth. 1.1.4-6). Iago rightly states that Roderigo will not hear, or listen, to him as he says that Roderigo should hate Iago because he is considering how to get all of Roderigo’s money. In another instance, Iago says to Cassio, “And, good lieutenant, I think you think I love you” (Oth. 2.2.311). This Green comment manipulates Cassio into thinking that Iago loves him when Iago has said nothing of the kind. Once again Iago revisits this topic, but with Othello as he says, “My lord, you know I love you” (Oth. 3.3.17). His manipulation of language counts upon Othello interpreting the first know as “believe to be true” though Iago hates the Moor. Iago also says to Othello, “I should be wise – for honesty’s a fool / And loses that it works for” (Oth. 3.3.382-383). Iago wants Othello to interpret this discourse as, “It does not pay to be honest because one loses what he goes after.” Iago truly means that he is wise because “honest Iago” is a person who fools (deceives) and rids himself of the person (Othello) for whom he works.

Shakespeare also expresses the character of Iago in terms of his secondary color, Orange. Kalil notes that an Orange has a natural gift of persuading others in favor of a point of view (131). Iago quite easily convinces Roderigo to provide money by selling all his land (Oth. 1.3.382). In another instance, with the intention of getting Cassio drunk enough to lose his temper, Iago persuades him to drink some wine (Oth. 2.3.47). Finally, Iago persuades Emilia to procure Desdemona’s handkerchief given to her by Othello that Iago “. . . hath a hundred times / Woo’d me to steal . . .” (Oth. 3.3.292-293). At the end of the play, Shakespeare explodes Iago’s character as he is caught in his schemes and has nothing else to say as “From this time forth [Iago] will never speak word” (Oth. 5.2.304). Because of his silence, one questions whether Iago reaches the fullness of his True Colors (a sublime nirvana of being) as the truth is discovered or whether Iago loses his personality (a lack of all colors) and becomes nothing. If he has achieved this completeness, then “I am not what I am” truly becomes “I am what I am” – a self-realization resulting in the silence. On the other hand, if Iago has lost his personality, “Demand me [to be] nothing; what you know, you know” implies the implosion of Iago’s character. If a person has lost his personality, he may withdraw into a silence of mind and being – nothingness.

Because Shakespeare is a master of capturing human nature, the True Colors system of analyzing characters in Shakespearean plays shows the realism of each character. Kalil notes that in understanding the True Colors system, “we develop a sense of interdependence that says we are here to support and serve each other in reaching our potentials and accomplishing our goals” (168). Shakespeare has developed this sense of interdependence of his characters in Othello. They are here to support and serve each other in reaching their potentials (realistic, round characterization) and accomplishing their goals (becoming believable as characters and as real people). Where life leaves off, Shakespeare takes over.

Works Cited

Kalil, Carolyn. Follow Your True Colors to the Work You Love. Wilsonville: BookPartners, Inc., 1998.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. The Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 1251-1288.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Shakespeare in the park – Tempest - Summer 2005

The performance of The Tempest in St. Louis was wonderfully produced to appeal to all ages. Although the set was of a minimalist design, it was perfect for the production. The wrecked ship was placed upon its side and at a diagonal angle with the bow in the air – approximately half of the ship was missing. The deck was facing the audience, and the mast had been broken off at the base. A hinged panel on the ship dropped down to display the inside of Prospero’s dwelling. When the ship was in the scene, the lighting was a golden brown hue. At all other times the ship was cast with white light, making it appear as the gray face of a cliff. Two small water pools were incorporated into the front edge of the stage, and stage right was comprised of an eight to ten foot mass of rock with a trail leading upstage and off. Prospero made his “hidden” entrances from the peak of the ship’s bow, which was approximately twenty feet above the stage. The actors also incorporated the audience area as part of the set.
Prospero was performed commandingly as should be. The performance of Ariel demonstrated the love and loyalty that she had for Prospero. Trinculo was performed in a loony manner that contained hints of the Three Stooges and the Marx brothers.
The only characterization that bothered me was the portrayal of Caliban with a Lenny (Of Mice and Men) voice – or, more closely, the Warner Brothers cartoon dog that spoofed Lenny. Caliban is an intelligent creature, but the Lenny voice created a dumbing down effect. The children at the performance enjoyed the characterization of Caliban, but I felt that it detracted from the drama almost as much as the creepy “Muahh, ha, ha” laugh of the guy sitting in front of me. Caliban was also depicted as a hairy centaur-like creature instead of a fish-man – once again probably to make him more appealing to the children in the audience.
Overall, I left the experience with the tingly feeling that I had hoped to achieve. The language flowed from one character to another when it was necessary, and it sounded conversational in parts that required it. Trinculo and Stephano play off each other perfectly – demonstrating the smoothness of Shakespeare’s language. Trinculo’s wit and banter appealed to me the most – the actor adding in grunts and sighs appropriately. The minimal lighting effects (changes in color only) did not create the magic, but the poetic language and the blocking of the scenes. The slow motion and/or freezing of actors during Ariel’s magic brought reality to the performance.